Koetter started his opening statement by saying: "What a great day for our program on Saturday (at Oregon). Autzen Stadium is a tough place to play. To go in there with our team and to win the game is one thing, but to come from 21 points down and win it like we did when we had a lot of chances to quit we couldn't be prouder of our guys. They hung in there and made plays when they had to make them." However, he did emphasize that starting today it's back to the grindstone. "The players and coaches are already hard at work on Washington. Then, tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7:00 a.m. weightlifting starts and at 2:15 p.m. position players' meetings start. We have to grind it on University of Washington because that is going to be a tough one." The ASU skipper also noted that the captains for this week's game are: Mike Karney, Tony Aguilar, and Brian Montesanto.
In the press conference there were naturally a lot of questions regarding Andrew Walter, and his record setting day. Koetter was full of admiration when talking about his skillful signal caller. "I have to give Andrew all the credit. He was told that he didn't win the job in spring, but he hung in there, he improved on the things he needed to get better at as a number two quarterback. It's a great lesson to all of our number two players who don't get a job that they think they should get. It's real easy these days to transfer to another school, or to just quit. Andrew didn't do those things, he hung in there, and he did all the things we asked him to improve on. He is running our offense really well. His demeanor on the sideline is superb. He has been able to overcome getting rattled, as he seemed to be at the beginning of the Oregon game. He is, for the most part, throwing the ball where he should throw it, when he should throw it there. He made a few mistakes the other day against Oregon, but when Andrew is playing well like he has been the last three or four weeks, you expect everything to be perfect."
According to Koetter, Walter isn't only assertive on the field, but also on the sidelines. "Andrew is a guy that can say what he thinks. I admire that. I admire anybody that can look you in the eye, and tell you what he thinks and doesn't worry if it hurts your feelings. I like that in a player, and I like that in anybody. I ask all our quarterbacks what they think, because I want to know. I don't always agree with what they tell me, but I always want to know. The way Andrew is with the other players is a calm, quiet way of showing leadership, and it's been very impressive." Speaking of leadership, the second year ASU coach gives a lot of credit to other players on his squad. "We started working with our 'leadership' group of players. It's 25 players that represent all five classes, and every position group on our team. Andrew Walter has played himself into a leadership role, as well as R.J. Oliver, and Terrell Suggs on the defensive side of the ball. Terrell, every Friday night, talks to the team, and I usually talk to the team after the players. After Terrell, I don't want to talk to the team, because he really knocks them out. I think we have a lot better leadership on our team than before. Any time there is a change in your life, people will go along with you as long as what you're telling them works. They need validation, if you're getting your brains beat in every week, that validation doesn't last. When we come from behind in four games, people start to believe, 'Hey, we can do it.'"
While the Oregon victory showcased the usual suspects such as Walter and Shaun McDonald, they were some unlikely heroes that contributed to the cause. Specifically receivers Justin Taplin, Derek Hagan, and Matt Miller. "I think that was one of the things that had the biggest impact on the game. In practice several of our other receivers had been playing real well, and I said to myself, 'We need to figure out how to get these guys in the game.' When Shaun and Daryl are playing like they are, as a coach, you have a tendency to keep playing them. Daryl sprained his ankle, and Derek Hagan came in as his backup and played outstanding. If you noticed in the game, we had a whole series where Taplin, and Miller were bunched up on one side and there were three runs and two passes in that block of plays. When they got their chances at their passes, they made the plays. Matt Miller made a great catch, the ball was under-thrown from Walter and Miller turned his body and came back to the ball. Skyler Fulton, didn't get the ball thrown at him, but his role in the game was very important and he executed it well. He cleared defensive players out, and was a blocker for the whole game."
With all the comeback victories that the Sun Devils are racking up, one wonders what takes place on the sidelines, and in the locker room that fuels that inspired play. Koetter replies: "There were people talking on the sideline. The people I noticed on the sideline the most as far as being positive were probably Tom Osborne, Mike Pinkard and Justin Taplin. From where I was on the field, those guys were the biggest cheerleaders when we were down 21-0. I do agree that after we scored the first touchdown and then converted the fake punt right before half and got within 11 points before halftime, I think our players were relieved. We fought through the crowd barrage that hit us when it was 21-0 and Oregon was making big plays. I liked our guys at halftime in the locker room, they seemed confident about what we needed to do. I can't think of any one moment that sticks out as far as rallying the team though."
In preparation for Washington, the Sun Devils are likely to stick to the same practice regimen and work with full pads on Tuesday, and shells on Wednesday and Thursday. The Huskies have shown to be susceptible to the pass, so does Koetter think they may just concentrate on stopping the run? "They have been doing that by trying to get their safeties up there (toward the line of scrimmage). They are a team that is really tough against the run. They've had some injuries and their fine corner Roc Alexander had shoulder surgery last week, so they're playing two young corners. They are mixing in some two-deep zone and I would expect that we would see some more of that. I think we may see some double teams as they did against Arizona and Bobby Wade." It seems that every conference game pits ASU against a stellar quarterback, and this week against the Huskies won't be any different. "The thing about Cody Pickett is that he has a very strong arm and he is a scrambler like Jason Gesser. The guy is a way better scrambler than he is given credit for and he has the ability to run like (former Washington quarterback Marques) Tuiasosopo but throw like any of the great throwers. The other thing that is unbelievable from a statistical standpoint is that Washington leads the Pac-10 in converting 52% of their third downs. In a normal season, the leading team is around 43, 44, 45 percent. They are far and away the highest in the Pac-10 (in that category). And they complete 66% of their passes. Our defensive coaches are telling me that Pickett does a great job. Last year, he single-handedly took it to us in the last drive [to win the game]. Those are the type of quarterbacks that give any defense problems."
The 45-42 win over Oregon wasn't necessarily a ringing endorsement for ASU's defense, but Koetter was pleased with their ability to make the crucial plays late in the game. "Our defense didn't play as well as we did against Oregon State. I thought that, on both sides of the ball, we were not as physical early in the game as we needed to be for a game of that magnitude. One of the things our defense has been doing a great job of is coming out and hitting people and Onterrio Smith made us miss a few times and I think that made us a little tentative in our tackling. We probably had three opportunities before Brett's (Hudson) interception to intercept balls and we didn't make the play. Oregon did a nice job with their game plan and almost always doubled Terrell (Suggs) the whole game. We just weren't able to make plays until the second half. When we needed to make the plays, all of a sudden we stopped them. The fact that we're doing well as a team and don't need to necessarily rely on one side or the other all the time is probably a good thing in the long run."
After a 4-7 (1-7 in the Pac-10) 2001 campaign, no one would blame the ASU skipper for gloating over the current 6-2 (3-0) record. Nevertheless, the ever perfectionist Dirk Koetter takes a realistic look at the big picture. "I think we're in the right direction and we're playing exciting football. Our players are playing hard, they're playing with passion, they're playing with character. That's the first brick that we can lay. This is a fun team to watch…we're not where we want to be yet, we're dong okay right now. It's gratifying if you do your job well but we have a long way to go and you're only as good as what happened last week and we have to move on. It was a fun couple days and when the year is over we'll probably think about it a little more, but we have a big one this week and I hope that we have a huge crowd."
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